Struggling to comprehend the full implications of the climate emergency is something that I do on daily basis. I’m grateful for what seems to be a new trend of increasing media coverage on all of the many ways that rapid and severe climate change are now being seen everyday across the planet. Finally, it seems that the immediacy and the real-time urgency of the problem is being acknowledged. Interestingly, it brings me a simultaneous sense of relief that it is finally being given the attention it should be given but with that is increased panic and frustration that we’re still acting too slowly and too mildly.

As I read through climate stories I find that I have to be careful of perspective and context. It’s a lot of information, some of it on the ground reporting of current climate emergency events but often along side of predictions and expectations of both oncoming near, mid and long-term weather changes as well as the possible ways that human social structures might adapt.

This story by CBS News about the predicted increase of widespread zones of extreme heat in the US provides one example. Emphasis added below:

The nonprofit research firm gathered surface temperature data using a peer-reviewed method that taps publicly available data from satellites and weather stations. It then modeled projected temperatures under a global warming scenario referred to as RCP 4.5, under which fossil-fuel emissions peak around 2040 and then decline.

While the article is focused on this dangerous heat zone that is predicted to take over much of the Midwest of the US, what caught my attention is the fact that we will still be increasing carbon emissions for 18 more years under the RCP 4.5 model cited in the research. Assuming that that model is even close to accurate, I’m trying to comprehend, given the range of current weather extremes and resulting current repercussions for natural ecosystems and human suffering, what is the reality going to be when we continue to increase carbon in the atmosphere for 18 more years?

But even worse, at 18 years we don’t suddenly stop adding carbon, we’re just adding less than previous years. We’ll still be adding many billions of tons of carbon per year. Currently we emit 50 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalents per year. That’s likely to persist for several decades. The link above lays out the various possible trajectories. With current policies we’re looking at 2.5 to 3.2°C warming. We’re currently at about 1.3° warmer. Even in the best case scenarios of reduction we’re committed to 2° of warming.

I’m trying to really, truly begin to comprehend it. Based on what we have today at 1.3° of increase, what does each year going forward look like. Even for someone who’s been thinking and imagining the scenarios and the reality, it’s still difficult to comprehend. Here’s a just a tiny sampling of the recent headlines detailing just the most recent weather headlines: